The one who comes after

lent

For most of my life, scripture has been a part of daily prayer, and yet there is something new every time I read it. This morning, John the Baptizer’s statement about Jesus as “The one who comes after me,” started a long journey of reflection.

John, the wild prophet in the wilderness had always known Jesus. Their mothers were related and close.

But John may have wondered who Jesus really was.

The prophet  had a black and white faith that was about as austere as his diet of locusts and bush honey.

He preached repentance, baptism for the forgiveness of sins, and he was quick to denounce evil, even when it was in high places.

His judgement of Herod’s marriage landed him in prison where he would eventually lose his head.

While he was in prison he must have had doubt about Jesus.

Like most people, he believed that the Roman occupation was punishment for the sins of Israel. The Messiah would come to deliver them.

And yes, John had believed that Jesus was the  Messiah.

Yet what were the messages that were coming to him while he was in prison?

Jesus was preaching love. He was healing people whether they deserved it or not. He was eating with sinners.

There were rumours that he made friends with Romans, tax collectors and prostitutes.

This must have bewildered John, because he sent a message back for Jesus.

“Ask him if he is the one to come, or do we wait for another?”

So why did this reading create for me, a kind of seismic shift in morning prayer?

Because I saw John and Jesus in the church.

In 1982, I came into the “Jesus“ church that preached a God of unconditional love, social justice, care of the poor, love of God and love of neighbour.

His was a presence that was almost palpable. I felt that I had come home.

However, not all people agreed that Vatican II was a good thing. Some were reacting as though the head had been cut off the “John” church.

They mourned that the black and white rules had been replaced by all this feel-good stuff.

There were people who believed they had worked hard to ensure eternal life, and a God of unconditional love was not acceptable.

A woman tried to explain the security she felt in the pre-Vatican II church.  “You felt safe,” she said. “You knew exactly where you were.”

I suggested that growth meant change, and even Jesus’ teachings changed as he grew in his ministry.

I’m sure that simply reinforced her suspicions about me.

Now I go back to John and Jesus  and see them as belonging together.  They were, after all, related.

As John baptised Jesus, so did the old church baptize  the new. The freedom of the “Jesus” church, grew out of the “John” structures.

Sometimes I think it  interesting that John the Baptist was a “head” man, while Jesus was the sacred “heart.”

There’s probably another prayer reflection there. But it can wait for another day.

  • Joy Cowley is a wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and retreat facilitator.
  • Image: TVNZ

 

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